Brodi Stuart knew something was wrong with his knee last summer, a nagging injury that flared up when he shot from a certain position.
The injury worsened, his knee locking during his first ice session after Christmas, and led to surgery on Jan. 20, an operation that effectively ended his WHL career.
His Kamloops Blazers will ice three 20-year-old players — forward Orrin Centazzo and defencemen Sean Strange and Montana Onyebuchi — if there can be a truncated B.C. Division campaign in 2021 amid the pandemic.
“I was super upset,” said Stuart, the left-shot from Langley who lives in Merritt. “For me, I was super prepared this year. I felt like I was in my best physical shape and, not only that, I felt really mentally strong and my confidence was there for me to have my best year yet.”
Stuart said the surgeon called the injury a bucket-handle meniscus tear and the recovery time will be at least three months.
The Blazers drafted [Round 4, 2015 WHL Bantam Draft] and developed Stuart, a highly respected player within the organization who has been placed on the injured list and will be kept on in a coaching role for the remainder of the season.
Stuart plans to begin his U Sports career in the fall, but has not given up his pursuit of a pro hockey contract.
“My mindset coming into this year was I want to have my best year yet and earn that pro contract,” said Stuart, who has not yet decided on a U Sports school.
“It’s definitely upsetting I’m not going to be able to play and do that, but I’m just trying to look at the positive side. There are a lot of good opportunities that come from U Sports. Everything happens for a reason.”
Stuart’s first WHL goal was memorable, a third-period marker against the Kelowna Rockets on April 2, 2017, at Sandman Centre that tied the sixth game of a Round 1 playoff series.
He spent the entirety of his major-junior career with the Blazers, finishing with 46 goals and 116 points in 205 regular season games, along with two goals and three points in 10 post-season contests.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the finishing stretch of his 19-year-old campaign, with his B.C. Division champion Blazers in position to make a run at a league title.
An injury such as this may have been harder to come to terms with for Stuart if his Blazers were chasing a meaningful championship in 2020-2021, so that may lessen the blow.
“It’s a weird season in general,” Stuart said. “Everybody is going through something. I’m a firm believer everything happens for a reason.”
Stuart is not exactly sure what his coaching role will look like, but he plans to help tutor some of the club’s younger players over the next few months.
“I’m super thankful and couldn’t be happier to be here in Kamloops this whole time,” said Stuart, an alternate captain for the past two seasons. “Just with all the friendships I’ve made and experiences and development I’ve had, these are going to be some of the times I’m never going to forget.”